SALEM, N.H.—Walmart has been quietly testing a new technology it claims picks, packs and delivers online grocery orders faster, CNBC reports. The company announced that the platform, Alphabot, has been in testing at a New Hampshire supercenter since mid-2019.
This week, the retailer showcased the platform at its “home” base. Right now, Walmart will continue to test and hone Alphabot before rolling it out across the United States. “Groceries [are] playing a great role in e-commerce growth,” said Tom Ward, senior vice president of central operations. “We’re seeing that customers really enjoy using the service and that’s why we keep trying to innovate in the space. ... We’re really pleased with what we’ve seen in the last 12 months.”
Grocery sales grab 56% of the retailer’s total U.S. revenue, with online orders a growing part of that slice. But competition from Amazon, Costco and Kroger continues to pressure Walmart’s grocery business.
To bolster its share of the grocery market, Walmart has close to 3,100 pickup locations for online orders, plus more than 1,400 stores with same-day grocery delivery and around 1,400 pickup towers. The retailer also has an unlimited grocery delivery option from 1,400 stores, where customers pay $98 a year or $12.95 monthly for delivery. The company also has tested delivery directly to customer fridges in three U.S. localities.
Alphabot, which utilizes autonomous carts to grab foods, including refrigerated and frozen items, stocks the most popular grocery items in its 20,000 product capacity. Once the carts are full, an employee double checks the order and bags the products for delivery. Only produce and other “fresh” items that should be checked for spoilage will be hand-picked by employees.
“By assembling and delivering orders to associates, Alphabot is streamlining the order process, allowing associates to do their jobs with greater speed and efficiency,” said Brian Roth, a senior manager of pickup automation and digital operations for Walmart U.S. “Ultimately, this will lower dispense times, increase accuracy and improve the entirety of pickup grocery. … And it will help free associates to focus on service and selling, while the technology handles the more mundane, repeatable tasks.”